Monday, August 3, 2015

An Atheist Reviews The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheism (Chapter 2 Greeks Bearing Gifts)

All throughout the preface and the first chapter Feser made numerous extremely bold claims that he promises to back up in the later chapters. By chapter two, entitled Greeks Bearing Gifts, we start seeing some of those justifications come to light. The chapter starts out on a crash course through ancient Greek philosophy leading up to Plato and then Aristotle. I won't summarize Feser's teaching unless I think it is significant for his objective, which is to show that "a certain kind of" religion and god are not only reasonable to believe in, but that it's logically impossible that naturalism is true.

Plato and Aristotle are considered to be two of the greatest philosophers of all time, and I would largely agree. That's not to say that I agree with all of their ideas, especially their metaphysical ones, it's just to recognize the fact that they were both deeply analytic thinkers and widely influential. For example, I regard the Euthyphro Dilemma, from Plato's Euthyphro, as one of the greatest pieces of moral insight. But, I digress. For Feser, he focuses first on Plato's Theory of Forms, which is one of the things I think Plato got wrong.

Take the triangle. Any triangle physically drawn or created will in some way be imperfect, if only by a tiny amount. They will all lack features that perfectly exemplify a triangle - that is, they will have features not part of a triangle's essence or nature. Plato argues from this that the essence or nature of triangularity is not material or known through our senses, and when we exemplify triangles physically they go in and out of existence, but its essence stays the same. The essential features of triangularity are therefore according to Plato, universal, and not particular, immaterial, and not material, and known through the intellect and not through the senses.

Feser is making the case for Platonic realism, and makes arguments against nominalism, and conceptualism. Platonic realism is the view that universals (like triangles, squares, and other geometric patterns) and abstract objects (like numbers) exist independently of minds or physical space and time. Nominalism is the view that these objects do not exist, and conceptualism is the view that these objects exist, but only as concepts in our minds. Feser presents several arguments to try and show that realism is true and that nominalism and conceptualism are false. The reason why he's trying to do so starts becoming clear on page 36 where he writes:

A triangle is a triangle only because it participates in the Form of Trianglarity; a squirrel is a squirrel only because it participates in the Form of Squirrel; and so forth. By the same token, something is going to count as a better triangle the more perfectly it participates in or instantiates triangularity, and a squirrel would be a better squirrel the more perfectly it participates in or instantiates the Form of Squirrel.

This is all leading up to the natural law theory of ethics that many Catholics, like Feser, think forms the basis of our morality. Feser goes on:

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Do Christians Realize That Jesus Never Pardoned Any Woman Accused Of Adultery?

I've blogged about this before, but I thought I'd add a quote from Bart Ehrman about how the story of Jesus letting the adulterer go free (which is one of the most famous stories in the New Testament), is a well known interpolation. From Misquoting Jesus:

The story of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery is arguably the best-known story about Jesus in the Bible; it certainly has always been a favorite in Hollywood versions of his life. It even makes it into Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, although that movie focuses only on Jesus's last hours (the story is treated in one of the rare flashbacks). Despite its popularity, the account is found in only one passage of the New Testament, in John 7:53-8:12, and it appears not to have been original even there.


Despite the brilliance of the story, its captivating quality, and its inherent intrigue, there is one other enormous problem that it poses. As it turns out, it was not originally in the Gospel of John. In fact, it was not originally part of any of the Gospels. It was added by later scribes.

How do we know this? In fact, scholars who work on the manu-script tradition have no doubts about this particular case. Later in this book we will be examining in greater depth the kinds of evidence that scholars adduce for making judgments of this sort. Here I can simply point out a few basic facts that have proved convincing to nearly all scholars of every persuasion: the story is not found in our oldest and best manuscripts of the Gospel of John; 18 its writing style is very different from what we find in the rest of John (including the stories immediately before and after); and it includes a large number of words and phrases that are otherwise alien to the Gospel. The conclusion is unavoidable: this passage was not originally part of the Gospel. (pp. 63-65)

The search feature on my blog sucks, and the previous post about this interpolation never comes up, so I'm hoping this post fixes that.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Boston, Seattle and San Francisco Have Relatively Few Christians

As reported by Pew.

Boston, Seattle and San Francisco Have Relatively Few Christians

Interesting. I can see why San Francisco's low, but I didn't really expect Boston to be so low because I associate it so strongly with Catholicism. But I guess its low rate of Christianity is because Catholicism is dropping so fast and it historically made up such a large percent of the population.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What Would I Do With 100 Million Dollars?

This should be an interesting post.

My coworkers play the lottery and dream of being millionaires, as we all have. I too entertain that fantasy but I never play the lottery. I know the odds of winning are so low that it's not worth playing. But suppose I won 100 million dollars. What would I do with it?

Here's what I'd do.

First, I'd quite my job. I like my job. I like my coworkers. It pays decent and it's relatively low stress, but it's only something I do for the money. If I had 100 million dollars, I'd have no need for it.

Second, I'd give some money to my family. I don't know exactly how much I'd give to each family member, but they'd get enough money to live comfortably for a while. I don't know about distant relatives though. I have some relatives I only see every ten years or so and I'm not sure if I'd give them any money. This would be an open question.

Third, I'd get a really nice apartment in Manhattan. I'm not sure where I'd live. Midtown is nice and full of luxurious apartments, but downtown in Greenwich Village has some beautiful brownstones and is closer to the party scene and the cultural attractions. Either way, I'd have a nice spacious bachelor pad.

Forth, after I settled on a nice apartment, since money wouldn't be an issue, I'd pursue my dream of becoming a philosopher. I'd study all the things I find fascinating: metaphysics, ethics, the philosophy of mind and science, logic, political philosophy. I'd study history, sociology, religion, and politics. I'd take writing classes. I'd study science and various different humanities. I'd study secularism, which is now a thing. Once I got a degree, I'd go back and get more degrees, over and over again. I'd be a perpetual student. As new interests develop, I'd go study them. I'd eventually amass several PhDs. I'd probably go to universities here in New York, like NYU or Columbia, but I'd consider travelling. And I'd write. I'd write books. I'd use my knowledge to lecture and talk and devote myself to activism. Most of what I'd do would be to support the secular community and the progressive politics I hold. I'd become an expert in all the relevant fields. It would be fucking awesome!

I'm Back From Vacation

It was a nice time with the fam' but I'm happy to be back in New York City. I'm such a new yorker that I get homesick very easily. When you grow up in one of the largest and most exciting cities in the world, almost every other city pales in comparison. Portland Oregon is a cool town, but it's a dinky suburb compared to New York City. I do like the fact that it's very liberal and quite atheistic. None of the people that I met there believed in god. They had all either been raised without religion or had given it up by the time they finished college.

Even my 9 year old nephew is a skeptic. He thinks god, religion, and spiritual beliefs are nonsense. He thinks the story of Moses and the Exodus is "stupid." I definitely see a little of me in him. (I was once that 9 year old skeptic debating my devoutly Catholic grandmother on god and evolution.) I told him that if anyone tries to tell him god exists they're making it up, and are most likely motivated by the goal of trying to tell him what to do and using god to justify it. There is no good evidence god exists or that any religion is true and it all comes down to faith claims. I'm not too worried that he's going to become a theist anytime soon. I think that once you realize religion and theism are bullshit, it's hard to go back. On top of that, my sister is not a traditional theist at all.

Anyway, I'm back and will be blogging again, hopefully more frequently rather than less frequently. I have several blog posts pending, including my lengthy review of chapter 2 of Edward Feser's book The Last Superstition. I also recorded a video of me talking to a street preacher who was a former male stripper and claims to be ex-gay. The audio and camera angles aren't perfect but it should be fun to turn it into a blog post. There's much more on the way as well. Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

On Vacation

Man I love blogging. I'd do it full time if it weren't for work and that pesky thing known as a "personal life." But I will have to take a slight break because I'm on vacation and I only get to see my family once a year. I have several new blog posts pending, including one on how to infer ontology that is part of an ongoing conversation with Luke Breuer, and one about the definition of religion, which will become a handy link whenever I get into the inevitable dispute of its cumbersome definition.

Also, my long awaited review of chapter 2 of Edward Feser's critique of New Atheism, The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism is almost done. I've already reviewed the preface and chapter 1, but chapter 2 took me a lot longer than expected because it's really heavy on philosophy and my goal is not just to review and critique Feser's book, but to summarize it so that readers will understand the metaphysics upholding his religious views. That means that my reviews will be lengthy, but they will serve as online resources for those who want to learn and hear a criticism of his book which few people have done before. I'm putting the finishing touches on it now and hopefully this will be done by the end of the month. Chapter 3's review is almost done too and should follow relatively shortly afterwards.

Then I have other topics potentially in the queue, including a critique of David Wood's reasons for being a Christian, which I think are really bad, a post about indoctrination and whether or not all teaching of children amounts to some form of indoctrination, a post about what I'd do with $100 million dollars, and maybe a post about whether "Only God can provide an adequate rational foundation for morality and unalienable human rights," as one theist tried to claim to me recently.

Also, I'm open to suggestions. If there are any topics that you'd like me to write about, I'd be open to consider them, depending on the topic and how much research it will involve. So, if you'd like, leave suggestions in the comment box.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Sexuality In The 21st Century

Random thought about dating in the 21st century. I've never been married, never gotten close to marriage, and have lived, pretty much, the life of a bachelor my entire life. I have had many girlfriends over the years but I've not settled down with any of them. I was just thinking about how dating is in the 21st century, and how my generation handles sex and relationships, a topic I don't often blog about.

I can say, speaking as a man in his early 30s, technically a millennial, that it is fairly easy to get sex today. I think this is in large part due to the fact that our society has progressed to the point where female sexuality is liberated enough where modern women are owning their sex lives and doing it on their terms, and not the terms traditional society wants them to. This has inevitably resulted in it now being easier to have sex than perhaps ever before.*

I think that this overall is a good thing, but I recognize that there are probably genuine concerns and arguments that can be raised about potential negative effects. I'm not against traditional monogamous relationships and marriages, I'm for diversity for those who do not feel that the traditional model works for them. I think we would all agree that cheating is bad, but instead of doubling down and going back to that traditional long-term rigorous monogamy model, instead another view, the one that says making short-to-medium term relationships and polyamory more acceptable would be the best way to handle the fact that many people feel a strong desire to cheat, and often do. That way, we can be more honest about what we want and don't have to all pretend like we're all looking for marriage and kids, which many of us don't want.

I'm not even the kind of person who practices things like polyamory, but the principle here is what matters, and that is a society acknowledging a relationship spectrum where many views are accepted, instead of just the traditional life-long marriage model.

*I could be totally wrong on this and I have no way of telling how easy it really was get sex in all other places and eras.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Biblical Slavery For Foreigners

Many Christian apologists will not accept the idea that biblical slavery in the Old Testament was indeed slavery. They think it was all voluntary indentured servitude, or something link it. Here's a quote from A History Of Ancient Near Eastern Law on slavery (emphasis mine): Enslavement

A citizen could not be enslaved against his will if independent or
without the permission of the person under whose authority he was
if a subordinate member of a household. The only exception was
enslavement by court order for commission of a crime or civil wrong. Although in practice economic circumstances would often force a person into slavery, in law his act was, strictly speaking, voluntary. The foreigner, by contrast, could be enslaved through capture in war, kidnapping, or force, unless protected by the local ruler or given resident alien status. In the latter case, protection still might only be partial. As a proverb puts it: "A resident alien in another city is a slave."

To drive the point even further so that there is no confusion over whether this applied to Israel:* Foreign slaves could be acquired by war, purchase, or birth. If a besieged city accepts the offer to allow their surrender, the people serve as tribute labor (Deut. 20:11). Should the city not surrender, men should be killed at capture rather than turned into slaves; women and children can be taken as booty (Deut. 20:12-14). Foreign slaves bought from the surrounding nations or from foreigners living in Israel do not go out: they are inherited as property (Lev. 25:44-46).

The Christian or Jew who wishes to deny that some Biblical slavery was indeed real life slavery, little different from the kind we had in the antebellum South, and condoned by their god, Yahweh, is in utter denial.

*Added 7/9/15

Friday, July 3, 2015

On July 4th, Remember The Greatest Englishman Who Ever Lived

On July 4th, America will celebrate its Independence Day. And on Independence Day, it's important to remember the greatest Englishman who ever lived. That man was none other than Thomas Paine. He wrote Common Sense, a strong polemic in favor of American independence which helped inspire the American Revolution. He spoke out against slavery at a time when it was a radical view. And he criticized the English monarchy, which caused him to flee to France where the French revolution was underway. After refusing to support the execution of King Louis XVI, he was imprisoned by the revolution and nearly executed. While imprisoned he began work on perhaps his greatest known book, The Age of Reason, a strong critique of religion, which still today remains one of the best critiques of theism. Paine, however was a deist, which was a popular view among intellectuals in the 17th and 18th century. He was progressive way beyond his time, and arguably wouldn't have much trouble fitting in in the 21st century. So remember him this 4th of July.

"I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church."

"All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit."

Why Interracial Marriage Is Wrong

Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.

There you have it folks. At the trial of Mildred and Richard Loving, an interracial couple living in Virginia who were charged with violating the state's racial integrity law, this was the "logic" cited in the case by the judge. If there ever was a clearer example of why we need secularism, this is it.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

David Fitzgerald On Mormonism

I don't think I really have to tell you that Mormonism is a false religion, but just in case you had any doubts, or just in case you wanted to know why it's false, David Fitzgerald provides a wonderful presentation showing why Mormonism is not only false, but utterly ridiculous.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Bernie Sanders For President 2016

If the democratic primary for the 2016 presidential nomination were today in my state, I'd vote for Bernie Sanders. Why? Bernie is authentic. He speaks the truth and tells it like it is. I agree with almost every single one of his policies, especially his central issue: income inequality.

Beating Hillary Clinton is most likely a long shot for him, but who knows. He's selling our arenas and he's got a grass roots movement behind him, not all that different from Barack Obama in 2008. I'm OK with Hillary, although I'm really not crazy about her. She's way too cozy with the corporations and big moneyed special interests and I feel that with her in the White House, it will be business as usual in Washington. We need a candidate in the White House who is committed to the following basic principles of Middle Out economics:

  • reform the tax code so that wealthy people and corporations pay a fairer share of the tax burden; 
  • get big business and big money out of politics by passing campaign finance reform; 
  • once that happens, reform Wall Street with common sense regulations; 
  • end our subsides to corporations and invest that money in education and rebuilding America; 
  • and perhaps, return to an economy where we produce real tangible goods that serve a deeper purpose beyond the novelty "wow" factor.

Bernie Sanders is the closest candidate to enter the presidential race that I've seen so far that exudes these principles. 

The republican candidates are a joke. Aside from their juvenile antics, none of them are committed to the principles and policies that will really raise millions of Americans out of poverty and help sustain and grow the middle class. They are pretty much all running on the same old debunked trickle-down economics nonsense that we've tried for 35 years that we know flattens and shrinks the middle class, and mostly enhances the rich. 

I'm pretty confident that a democrat will win the White House in 2016, as I think the republicans have pretty much lost the ability to win national elections (unless they dramatically progress on social issues, which most of them won't do). But that will mean Hillary is the likely future president. She's certainly better than president a Ted Cruz, or Scott Walker, but she ain't no Bernie Sanders. He's the only candidate that I think is really capable of really changing Washington for the better.

I just donated $10 to his campaign. If you'd like to donate to his campaign, please go here: Bernie 2016

Can Experiments Rule Out Some Interpretations Of Quantum Mechanics?

There are about a dozen or so interpretations of quantum mechanics that physicists float around, and nobody knows which one, if any, is correct. Experiments up until now have been unable to rule out different versions, as they all experimentally predict the same things, even though different interpretations lead to dramatically different ontologies.

But that all may change in the next couple months. As reported by FQXi, a new experiment might be able to falsify certain QM interpretations that fall under what are known as the psi-epistemic models. Interpretations into quantum mechanics diverge into two camps: psi-ontic models, and psi-epistemic models. Psi-ontic models are realist in the sense that they say that the wave function is real and exists independently of our observation. Psi-epistemic models say that the wave function isn't real and represents our ignorance about our state of reality.

If an experiment could rule out psi-epistemic models it would narrow the pool of candidates, and it could lend credibility to the psi-ontic models, of which the many-worlds and bohmian interpretations are a part of. But, one caveat is that the Copenhagen interpretation, which is a psi-epistemic model, can't be ruled out, as it is not able to be falsified, at least not by the pending experiment. Still, what's so great is that experimental technology has improved to such a degree that we now have the opportunity to falsify QM interpretations like we've never had the ability to before.

I certainly hope that in my lifetime we get some experiments that help us narrow down the interpretations of quantum mechanics, hopefully to one. Although I like the many world interpretation as it is the most metaphysically interesting one, the idea of other worlds does make me cringe a bit. Is there a world where I'm homeless now and begging for money on the street? Is there a world where the Nazis won World War II and succeeded in mass-slaughtering millions of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and those they deemed inferior? The idea of that is horrible and it would open the mind up to many disturbing realities. The pending experiment could still leave open several candidates, so narrowing the field down to one is not likely in the near future. We'll have to wait and see what the experiments show. Stay tuned.

See here:

Quantum physics: What is really real?

Quantum Phenomena Modeled by Interactions between Many Classical Worlds

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Same Sex Marriage Legal In All 50 US States

Last week the US Supreme court legalized same sex marriage in all 50 states. While most people cheered, some fear that this was an assault on Christian values. Many of us, including me, thought the decision was inevitable, especially given the trends in recent years around the world towards legalization.

I care very little about the feelings of conservatives who don't like the decision. I care about them about as much as I care about Southern white racists who were upset over passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that forced the end of segregation. Is that to say that Christianity will be illegal, as some on the right are suggesting? Of course not. Americans are free to believe and practice whatever religion they want, so long as it doesn't violate basic equality and civil rights, like same sex marriage.

But, when ever you say that to a conservative, the usual reaction they give you is that the Supreme Court's decision will pave the way for bestiality and pedophilia, because hey, people who want to have sex with animals and children can't have their "rights" denied either, so the logic goes. But it's not a logical conclusion. The reason why we don't allow adults to have sex with children is because children are not old enough to legally consent to sex acts. This is because they are not old enough to make the decision, and they are less able to think of and handle the consequences of sex. This is why we don't allow children to drive cars: they are less capable of handing the responsibility. Children are also more easily taken advantage of by adults because their immaturity makes them more easily coerced, which opens up the greater possibility of abuse. The same basic idea applies to animals, and that's why animals cannot consent to sexual acts or marriages. So gay marriage is not going to pave the way to bestiality or pedophilia, as any proponents of those views would not be able to use the same arguments that support same sex marriage.

It's been a really bad week for conservatives. First ObamaCare survives, and now same sex marriage is legal nationwide. The court even ruled against Confederate license plates in Texas. If I were a conservative Christian, I'd feel like I just got kicked in the truck nuts. They're on the losing end of a culture war and they know it. The party that claims to represent them, the Republican party, needs to seriously evaluate itself. It simply cannot win on the socially conservative views it holds at a national level, and increasingly at a local level. But I suppose that's just one more reason for me as a liberal to celebrate.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Miracles: Humean or Leibnizian?

Every religion has miracle claims. The purpose of these claims can vary from religion to religion and from within religions. Sometimes the purpose is to demonstrate god's awesome power. Other times it's to establish the authority and validity of a prophet. Regardless of the reasons, the miracle itself is a demonstration of the natural laws of physics being violated. This view of miracles is so common that the definition of a miracle in its popular usage is "an event not explicable by natural or scientific laws."

Or is it? Miracles of this kind — the law violating type, are sometimes called Humean miracles, after the 18th century Scottish philosopher David Hume. In Section X in his 1748 book An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, titled Of Miracles, he defined a miracle as "a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent". Though a source of great debate, this general notion of miracles violating natural law such that they could not happen without the interference of a deity or something outside nature is what we commonly think of when we claim a miracle occurred (despite the fact that colloquially we loosely throw the term around to describe anything unlikely, such as surviving a terrible car crash).

But the Humean definition is only one of many. One of its great rivals is the lesser known Leibnizian miracle, and fits into the view philosopher Kenny Pearce calls Christian naturalism. Leibniz was the 17th/18th century philosopher and mathematician known mostly to apologists as the creator of the argument from contingency. Pearce describes what a miracle is on his blog following Leibniz's insights:

A miracle is an event in which the "higher functions" of the divine consciousness, i.e. the part equivalent to the conscious functioning of the human mind, that makes plans and designs regarding human lives and the like, are more apparent than the "lower functions" which are the laws of nature. To put it more simply (but less precisely) a miracle occurs when the laws of nature conspire together to acheive [sic] some intelligent end. These sorts of miracles are a definite argument not just for the existence of a spiritual being in general, but for the existence of the God of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures.

Um, what? I have to honestly say that I have no idea what he really means in his first sentence. How do the higher functions of the divine consciousness become more apparent than the laws of nature without violating them? It's not clear, especially since earlier in the post Pearce had written:

What I do mean, is the belief that every occurence [sic] in the physical world is governed by a set of fundamental laws to which there are no exceptions.

Except of course that one time, an under-aged virgin girl in Palestine gave birth to a son, who walked on water and turned it into wine without technology, and he died for a few days and came back to life. Yeah, no exceptions. But anyway...


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